What if somebody told you that your brain could be downloaded onto a hard drive? Terrifying, right?
But what if your parents or your husband or wife developed Alzheimer’s disease, and their memory would soon be completely gone. How does that downloaded brain sound now?
West Tisbury resident and awardwinning filmmaker Angela Andersen posed that question to an audience gathered at the West Tisbury library after the screening of her latest documentary, “Brave New World — How Silicon Valley Is Shaping Our Future.” The film first aired last December, and has since been viewed by over 10 million people in Europe. Ms. Andersen was born in Hamburg, and the hourlong documentary was originally made for the German television network ZDF. It has since been adapted to English.
“Brave New World” explores the minds of the masters behind technologies like self-driving cars, gene manipulation, 3D printing, Uber, Facebook, Google, Airbnb, and other unicorn projects. A unicorn, in the world of business, is a company, usually a startup, whose worth shoots up to over $1 billion overnight.
“You just can’t prepare for this rush into the future,” a voiceover said as the camera panned a sprawling frame of the Golden Gate Bridge in the intro shot of Ms. Andersen’s documentary. An illuminated, animated unicorn canters across the bridge, leaving a trail of blue shimmering light behind it. The animation recurs throughout the film, mesmerizing viewers with its imagery, and terrifying them with its representation.
The film goes on to explain the people behind these multibillion-dollar ideas — they aren’t trying to crush us, they’re trying to make our lives easier. Ms. Andersen introduces viewers to Sebastian Thrun and Astro Teller, part of the think tanks behind self-driving cars, among other unicorn projects.
“There are more than 1 million people who die on the roads every year,” Mr. Teller said in the film. “More than a trillion dollars per year is wasted with humans sitting in traffic. Let’s give the trillion dollars back to them.”
If machines can do the jobs of drivers, that means they might be able to do the jobs of pilots, doctors, and lawyers. Individuals like Mr. Teller and Mr. Thurn know that artificial intelligence and technology have the power to replace humans, and in their unconditional belief in the future, that’s OK with them.
According to the film, Californian nonchalance is one of the drivers behind this brave new world. Individuals are less concerned with possessions, and more concerned with collaborations. Chip Conley, one of the minds behind Airbnb, spoke to the changing U.S. economy from a possessions economy to a share economy. Multimillionaires in Northern California would rather pay $3 per hour at a Palo Alto work cafe than own their own office space. Mr. Conley also spoke to the California curiosity culture, saying that most, if not all, of these big ideas come from hippie festivals like Burning Man.
The film ended with mention that Europe has fallen hopelessly behind, and must keep up with the times. To that, in a post-screening Q and A, Ms. Andersen said Europeans are doubtful and hesitant to embrace innovation. Many countries block Facebook, and according to Ms. Andersen, there isn’t yet a rising European region beginning to embrace Silicon Valley’s values.
After the film, the audience stayed put, and hands shot up. One woman asked what these technological developments meant for people at the risk of losing jobs. Ms. Andersen shared the concern, and spoke to the importance of policy as these technologies roll out. Another woman asked Ms. Andersen how much fun she had making the film. “None,” she said. Ms. Andersen reflected on the hours on her feet in the pouring rain in San Francisco, working with a small staff on a tight deadline. Another individual commented on how brilliantly terrifying she found the film, and her husband, sitting two seats over, said he found it entirely encouraging.